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Why Under Armour and Stephen Curry are launching Curry Brand now

A new signature brand marks an expansion in their seven-year relationship, as well as a new push into branded purpose.

Why Under Armour and Stephen Curry are launching Curry Brand now
[Photo: Under Armour]
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Under Armour and NBA star Stephen Curry have been working together since 2013, but now the two are taking their relationship to the next level.

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The Golden State Warriors point guard and the apparel brand are announcing their new enterprise on November 30: Curry Brand. The new namesake extension will feature footwear, apparel, and accessories across multiple categories, including basketball and golf, with eventual expansion into running and women’s products.

“We’ve been working on this for the last couple of years, and got to a place where Curry Brand could exist in a very authentic way, in terms of things I have passion about, from basketball and golf to running and training,” says Curry, whose latest signature shoe is scheduled to drop in early December.

The new brand comes with a new logo, of course, but the most distinctive feature of Curry Brand will be how it works to provide opportunity and access for the next generation of young athletes worldwide. Initially, that translates into a partnership with the Oakland Unified School District and Oakland Parks, Recreation & Youth Development to bring basketball to each middle school, as well as offer professional development for every youth sports coach via the Positive Coaching Alliance. Overall, the new brand is committing to help more than 100,000 young athletes by 2025.

“Being in the signature game for so long, there’s been a lot of lessons learned, a lot of ups and downs, but at the end of the day with Curry Brand, to be able to stand for something good, find a way to impact people’s lives, and create amazing product that comes from my DNA and fingerprint really means a lot,” Curry says.

Under Armour CEO Patrik Frisk says that imbuing this purpose into the new brand ties in perfectly with the work Curry is already doing in the community. “Over the past three or four years, he’s done a lot of his own philanthropy, with his wife and foundation, and we started to think about how we could make our bond even stronger,” Frisk says. “There’s also an engagement aspect, the opportunity for people who buy Curry Brand products to understand that when they do, part of that money goes to this program. You’re helping to fund an opportunity for kids, initially in the Oakland area, and elsewhere when we start to scale that.”

[Photo: Under Armour]
This is Under Armour’s first signature stand-alone brand extension. The closest thing that it’s done to this has been its Project Rock collection with Dwayne Johnson. These opportunities don’t come often, and the track record of athlete-driven signature brands is spotty at best. Think Ewing Athletics or Starbury. Plenty of stars have their own logo for their shoes, but almost none have become brands themselves. The gold standard—Jordan Brand, launched by Nike in 1997—remains the envy of the industry.

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Frisk knows this, but maintains that his optimism for this new venture is still tethered to reality. “We’re not trying to take on Jordan here, that’s ridiculous,” he says. “Nike’s doing a phenomenal job. They buckled down on that brand and [have] grown it for decades. Under Armour is only 25 years old, and only about 10 years in footwear. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and this is a very important initiative for us.”

As recently as 2015, UA’s growth was so hot that some analysts openly speculated at the time about the end of Nike’s dominance in basketball. Which, given Curry’s own history, made for a great story.

As sports sponsorship tales go, it’s become the stuff of legend. Back in 2013, Curry’s contract with Nike was up for renewal, and the swoosh didn’t quite take the idea of pitching the Warriors star all that seriously. Some accounts say they mispronounced his name, and even mistakenly used Kevin Durant’s name in their presentation, while others say they let him go over a $4 million difference in pay. Either way, just as Curry’s rise was about to go stratospheric, he bounced over to another up-and-comer, Under Armour. By 2016, Morgan Stanley analyst Jay Sole pegged Curry’s potential worth to the company at more than $14 billion.

In more recent years, however, UA has lost its momentum. There have been company culture issues. Accounting issues. Trump issues. Most important, when it comes to its most high-profile endorser, there have also been Curry issues. He disagreed with UA founder Kevin Plank’s take on President Donald Trump, watched the company mismanage the rollout of his Curry 2 signature shoe that resulted in disappointing sales—and produced a Dad Shoe meme. Meanwhile, everyone witnessed the brand’s stock price nosedive by more than 50%. By 2018, according to a New York Times story in January, UA was already forced to put its persuasion game into overdrive to convince Curry to stick with it beyond his 2024 contract.

“We love working with Stephen, and we’ve had ups and downs, as with any relationship,” Frisk says. “These top athletes in the world have strong wills. They’re really powerful people, not just in their sport but how they think about things. And I respect that. I don’t expect our athlete relationships to be frictionless. That would be silly. But I think the respect and understanding on where we stand on the values side of things, if that aligns, then you can get by those tougher moments.”

Frisk says that another reason UA is able to take on this new venture is the work it’s done to address those problems. “If we were asked to do this three years ago, I’d most likely have said no, because we were not ready as a brand,” he says. “Because in order to do this well, you need to be absolutely clear on who you are, and who you’re for. We’ve done that soul-searching over the past three years. It’s absolutely clear for us that we’re going to compete in athletic performance. That’s our space. One thing that Stephen has done well is really become a beacon in terms of the athlete value proposition.”

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For Curry, the time is right to take the work he’s done with Under Armour into uncharted territory. “I think people can see through the BS, the noise around brands trying to do too much,” he says. “But at the end of the day, it’s the timing for me to be able to go all the way in, not just trying an idea but being a part of every touchpoint for the brand, how it’s expressed through the product, through storytelling, and in the community.”

The two-time NBA MVP also knows having a namesake brand is no easy shot, but he’s ready to take it.

“The most exciting part is how scared I am. That’s the beauty in thinking big,” he says. “There are people who have tried to blaze this trail before; there’s been a lot of successes and failures in that respect. But taking big swings, man, that’s how I play the game and look at most aspects of my life. There’s appropriate fear in starting something brand new, doing something that is different. And I think that’s okay. Again, it’s about staying true to myself and understanding we’re going to live this out, make sure everything we do is authentic to who we are, and hopefully success will come by that.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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